A roman portrait of Abraham in Paul's and Philo's later exegesis

Maren R. Niehoff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This article analyzes Bible exegesis as a key to understand the increasingly Roman orientation of Paul. Philo of Alexandria, Paul's slightly older contemporary, is introduced as a point of comparison, as his move from the earlier Allegorical Commentary to the Life of Abraham clearly documents an intellectual journey towards Roman discourses, which is characteristic also of Paul. The argument is presented in three steps: initially the image of Abraham in Galatians is compared to that in Romans and the new discourse of exemplarity in the latter is highlighted. In the second section Philo's image of Abraham is analyzed in its dramatic change from systematic Bible commentary to exemplary ethics. The third section deals with the Roman context. The latter is illuminated by looking at some passages in Philo's later treatise Every Good Man is Free, which addresses Roman audiences on their own turf by discussing Greek and Roman heroes. It is shown that these Pagan portraits are animated by the same discourse of exemplarity as Philo's and Paul's Roman portrait of Abraham in their later exegesis. As the Pagan anecdotes have parallels in Roman literature, they provide a context for Paul's and Philo's exegesis in a Roman key.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)452-476
Number of pages25
JournalNovum Testamentum
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021


  • Abraham
  • Bible exegesis
  • Exemplarity
  • Galatians
  • Philo
  • Public libraries
  • Romans
  • Rome


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